Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Oct 26, 2023

The ACT, Inc, annual testing report has been released. The number of 2023 graduating high school students taking the exam increased over the previous year by a modest 37,000 or 2.7%, to 1.39 million. (In contrast, the SAT saw an increase of 176,000 or 10.1% over the same period.)

ACT Inc.'s press release regarding the 2023 National Profile Report has details regarding average testing scores and student performance versus benchmarks calibrated to indicate college readiness.


The average Composite score on the ACT test fell to 19.5 for the class of 2023, a decline of 0.3 points from 2022, according to data released today by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the college readiness exam. The average scores in mathematics, reading, and science subjects were all below the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks for those subjects.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum ACT test scores required for students to have a high probability of success in credit-bearing first-year college courses. ACT research continues to show that students meeting a benchmark on the test have approximately a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses.

“This is the sixth consecutive year of declines in average scores, with average scores declining in every academic subject,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “We are also continuing to see a rise in the number of seniors leaving high school without meeting any of the college readiness benchmarks, even as student GPAs continue to rise and students report that they feel prepared to be successful in college. The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career. These systemic problems require sustained action and support at the policy level. This is not up to teachers and principals alone – it is a shared national priority and imperative.”

The Associated Press covers the ACT score report:


High school students' scores on the ACT college admissions test have dropped to their lowest in more than three decades, showing a lack of student preparedness for college-level coursework, according to the nonprofit organization that administers the test.

Scores have been falling for six consecutive years, but the trend accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students in the class of 2023 whose scores were reported Wednesday were in their first year of high school when the virus reached the U.S.

“The hard truth is that we are not doing enough to ensure that graduates are truly ready for postsecondary success in college and career,” said Janet Godwin, chief executive officer for the nonprofit ACT.

The average ACT composite score for U.S. students was 19.5 out of 36. Last year, the average score was 19.8. [Matt note: the average ACT score was 20.7 in 2019.]

The average scores in reading, science and math all were below benchmarks the ACT says students must reach to have a high probability of success in first-year college courses. The average score in English was just above the benchmark but still declined compared to last year.

[Matt note: Besides the drop in composite scores, there are troubling indicators across the board regarding the trend of ACT scores in recent years. The percentage of students meeting 3 or 4 benchmarks has declined from 37 percent to 31 percent between 2019 and 2023, and the percentage meeting the STEM benchmark has declined from 20 to 15 over the same period.]

Nick Anderson of The Washington Post covers the recent controversy over Florida's approval of the Classic Learning Test in place of the SAT/ACT.


For the first time, applicants to the University of Florida and numerous other public universities in the Sunshine State can send a score from the Classic Learning Test instead of the ACT or SAT.

This level of acceptance in a megastate marks a breakthrough for the eight-year-old test. It is also the latest in a series of DeSantis-backed challenges to the College Board, which oversees the SAT and the Advanced Placement high school program. His administration rejected plans for an AP African American studies class.

But some testing experts question whether the CLT has shown it is ready for such a major assignment. They say its claim of validity as an admissions exam is not as solid as it should be. And they question whether its scores can be compared yet to those from other tests.

“They don’t currently have sufficient evidence to support high-stakes college admissions decisions,” said Andrew Ho, an education professor at Harvard University and vice president of the National Council on Measurement in Education. “They have a lot of research they need to do and publish transparently.”

Noah J. Tyler, chief financial officer of Classic Learning Initiatives, said the company plans to publish a detailed report within a few weeks — on test development, scaling, scoring, reliability and validity — that updates a technical report published five years earlier.

A key question about the CLT is whether admissions officers, students and parents understand and trust what its scores mean. The CLT’s website publishes charts comparing its scale (maximum 120) to those of the SAT (max 1600) and ACT (max 36). According to these charts, a score of 100 on the CLT corresponds to a 1390 on the SAT and a 31 on the ACT.

The charts drew on two sources. First, Classic Learning Initiatives generated a unilateral study comparing its scores to the SAT. Separately, the College Board and ACT had teamed on an earlier study, known as a concordance, comparing scores on their two tests.

But there was no direct study linking CLT and ACT scores. Rather, Classic Learning Initiatives inferred a relationship by using the SAT-ACT concordance.

The College Board, based in New York, and the ACT, based in Iowa, have raised concerns about the charts.

Gregory Cizek, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and past president of the National Council on Measurement in Education, said the College Board and ACT are seeking to protect their market share from the potential incursions of a new rival. As a new test, Cizek said, the CLT faces inherent limits in how much it can demonstrate. It must develop a track record, he said.

“They’ve done what a newcomer can do to get their foot in the door,” Cizek said. “Have they done enough? What I think I would like to see is a research plan.”

Ho said further studies of the validity of the CLT are crucial. One way to do that would be to analyze the first-year college grades of students who took the CLT under high-stakes conditions.

“The task they have in front of them is substantial and will take time,” Ho said. The CLT, he said, is “way behind where I would have expected a test to be for this level of faith that Florida has placed in the test.”

Florida’s state system, with 12 schools, enrolls about 430,000 students. While most public universities elsewhere no longer require test scores for freshman admission, Florida’s do. It is likely that SAT and ACT will continue to dominate the state market for now. But the CLT is now an option.

The New York Times has published an article titled, "New SAT Data Highlights the Deep Inequality at the Heart of American Education" that examines the advantages affluent students have in the years leading up to the taking of the SAT:


New data shows, for the first time at this level of detail, how much students’ standardized test scores rise with their parents’ incomes — and how disparities start years before students sit for tests.

One-third of the children of the very richest families scored a 1300 or higher on the SAT, while less than 5 percent of middle-class students did, according to the data, from economists at Opportunity Insights, based at Harvard. Relatively few children in the poorest families scored that high; just one in five took the test at all.

The researchers matched all students’ SAT and ACT scores for 2011, 2013 and 2015 with their parents’ federal income tax records for the prior six years. Their analysis, which also included admissions and attendance records, found that children from very rich families are overrepresented at elite colleges for many reasons, including that admissions offices give them preference. But the test score data highlights a more fundamental reason: When it comes to the types of achievement colleges assess, the children of the rich are simply better prepared.

The disparity highlights the inequality at the heart of American education: Starting very early, children from rich and poor families receive vastly different educations, in and out of school, driven by differences in the amount of money and time their parents are able to invest. And in the last five decades, as the country has become more unequal by income, the gap in children’s academic achievement, as measured by test scores throughout schooling, has widened.

“Kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods end up behind the starting line even when they get to kindergarten,” said Sean Reardon, the professor of poverty and inequality in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
“On average,” he added, “our schools aren’t very good at undoing that damage.”

It starts early: High-income children are more likely to have attended preschool. Before kindergarten, the average cognitive scores for the children of the highest-earning families are 60 percent above the scores of the lowest earners. The early advantage continues: Children who attend high-quality preschools have been shown to have higher chances of taking the SAT and going to college.

By the time rich children take the SAT, researchers speculate, experiences like bedtime reading, museum visits and science summer camps may contribute to their scores: “They’ve gone to better schools, they’ve read more novels, they’ve learned more math,” said Jesse Rothstein, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

If the SAT is, in a sense, a wealth test, education research suggests that is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Other parts of college applications, like essays and letters of recommendation, are also influenced by socioeconomic background. And data suggests that children with high SAT scores are more prepared for demanding college coursework, and more likely to have high earnings or prestigious jobs in adulthood.

The solution, researchers say, is addressing achievement gaps much earlier, through things like universal pre-K, increased funding for schools in low-income neighborhoods, and reduced residential segregation.

Education Week looks at the recent testing reports released by the College Board and ACT, Inc., and determines that the evidence suggests that the tests are here to stay:


College admissions experts say that even in a test optional world, tests like the SAT are here to stay.

“I think it’s going to take a while for people to really relax into test-optional and for the institutions that are choosing to be test-optional to pivot away from prioritizing standardized testing, because that has been such a big part of assessing a student’s readiness for college and comparing applicants for all these years,” said Rachel York, a college admissions counselor and academic adviser at educational consulting firm IvyWise.

When asked about the validity of relying on SAT scores when scores overall are declining (as also seen with ACT scores), York said context matters for college admissions officers.

Educators across the country saw dips in grades in the early years of the pandemic so a similar drop in SAT scores is not unexpected, she added.

It’s also important to note that the students who are submitting test scores are the ones who are doing exceptionally well, York said.

Regardless, York still advises students to take the SAT.

David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, says there are broader benefits students should consider when deciding to take the test.

For instance, some students might not immediately know where they plan to apply. So taking the test covers their bases if a school ends up requiring it, Hawkins said.

And there are scholarships that rely on standardized test scores as eligibility criteria, including state merit-based grants, even in states where admissions are test-optional for now, Hawkins added.

While it’s too early to tell what the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action earlier this year will mean for the value of SAT scores when race can no longer be a factor admissions officers look at when reviewing applicants, York doesn’t see the SAT’s role in the process going away any time soon.

“My hope is that we can continue to kind of elevate the other aspects of a student’s application, the transcripts, what they’ve done, what their teachers say about them as an indication of who’s going to be successful, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court decision,” she said.

The test optional surge due to the pandemic has certainly inverted the former proportion of test-requiring and test-optional US colleges. So much so that US News offers a very short list of top colleges and universities that still require SAT/ACT scores.